Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni

Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni hums with the rhythm of spoken word poetry and the jazz of human experience.  Each poem carries with it an essence that reflects the Black experience from the capture and transportation of slaves and what that should teach us about how to treat people to the lessons we carry with us once our relatives die.  Her poetry is frank and honest, but it pulls no punches to ensure that readers understand that there are deep wrongs that can be learned from as long as we are willing to look at them closely.  It may be difficult to review past transgressions without jumping to defend or shy away from shame, but her poems cause you to meet those challenges head on and to learn from our own follies.

At other times, her verse decries the blind eye that we turn every day to our own situations and histories, wishing that there were a different outcome or social norm.  Giovanni’s poems focus a bit on the Black experience, but in many ways her verse and perspective transcends beyond those parameters to reach out to all of humanity.  From “Possum Crossing” (page 5), “All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs/think themselves invincible and pay no heed/to the rolling wheels while they dine/on an unlucky rabbit//”

Giovanni also takes her readers on a historic journey through the struggle for civil rights and equality in poems dedicated to Gwendolyn Brooks and poems about Martin Luther King and more.  Her poems aren’t just about the past, but about contemporary people and events and the strength and conviction they display.  Her poems range from the traditional free verse to the narrative prose-like poems that read like a stream of consciousness.

From “Symphony of the Sphinx” (page 19):

“I have to remember Africa each night as I lay me down to
sleep The patchwork quilt my Great-Grandmother patched
one patch two patches three patches more I learned to count by
those patches I learned my numbers by those patches the ones
that hit and the many thousand gone I learned my patience by
those patches that clove to each other to keep me warm”

Giovanni’s imagery and matter-of-fact tone tells it like it is without pretense, and readers will take a journey with her through her own life experiences.  “Talk to me, Poem . . . I’m all alone . . . Nobody understands what/I’m saying . . . ” from “Shoulders Are for Emergencies Only” (page 15) is a lament that resurfaces, but readers nod in agreement as Giovanni expresses each observation.  “We hear you,” they will say.  There is a patchwork of poetry here that weaves history with the present and struggle with joy to generate the warmth family, friends, and life can bring.  Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni is sensational and touching.

Books & Interviews With Nikki Giovanni:

This is my 33rd book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


  1. I really want to try some of Giovanni’s poetry. Vance met her while he was at Tech and he had wonderful things to say about her. She is a class act.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful essay about Nikki Giovanni. I love her poetry. To me, it’s simple and very deep all at the same time. Luv the title of this poetry book.

  3. You rocked that poetry challenge, woman! I know how much you love Giovanni’s poetry, so I’ll have to give it a try at some point.


  1. Nikki Giovanni: Our February Icon | S. L. Writes says:

    […] before they or I perished from this earth. In January 2011 I saw Erykah Badu. In January 2012 I saw Yolanda Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni. A pattern? If I see Angela Davis in January 2013, we can say it is! […]